A glaring confession: I've never listened to Sigur Rós before. Well, that's not really true. I've heard the band's music in movies like The Life Aquatic, and I've seen Helma, the stunning Icelandic tour documentary from 2007. There's also lead man Jónsi Birgisson's 2010 solo album, with which I'm familiar. I even sat in on an hour-long interview with him, but, sadly, I still can't claim to have sat down with a particular album before this one.
Sigur Rós is music for patient people, something that I might have called myself maybe three or four years ago, and I suspect I'm not alone in feeling a wavering attention span as of late. A lot has happened since the band went on hiatus, and Sigur Rós' type of floaty, ambient alien pop has been largely swept into dusty corners of collections dominated by boom-baps and bleeps; lamblike bleating, on the other hand, you don't see too much of anymore. So does the Icelandic trio's return to form hold up?
Of course it does. Since I'm unqualified to assess the album's finer points with scrupulous holism, I'll focus on one moment, which seems just as worthy as the rest. About twenty minutes into Valtari, on the track "Varúõ," Sigur Rós gets really loud. There's so much sludge and pounding percussion that it's reasonably startling — it's no surprise that Birgisson is a professed fan of metal like Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden.
Yet, in comparison to previous works (so I've heard), the slowly rolling, boundary-free beauty of Valtari seems purposeful and carefully crafted. But don't expect too many surprises — that is, unless you're so out of it that you never listened to this band before. (XL)